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Review of  Quantity and Prososdic Asymmetries in Alemannic

Reviewer: Stefan Werner
Book Title: Quantity and Prososdic Asymmetries in Alemannic
Book Author: Astrid Kraehenmann
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Subject Language(s): German, Swiss
Book Announcement: 15.994

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Date: Wed, 24 Mar 2004 11:45:40 +0200
From: Stefan Werner <stefan.werner@joensuu.fi>
Subject: Quantity and Prosodic Asymmetries in Alemannic

AUTHOR: Kraehenmann, Astrid
TITLE: Quantity and Prosodic Asymmetries in Alemannic
SUBTITLE: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives
SERIES: Phonology & Phonetics 5
YEAR: 2003
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter

Stefan Werner, University of Joensuu, Finland


The monograph presents a comprehensive analysis of a Swiss
German dialect which exhibits several exceptional features
in its sound system. Phonetics and phonology of the
Thurgovian dialect are examined in detail, both from a
synchronic and a diachronic perspective, and interpreted on
the background of language typology and modern theories of
phonology. In particular, the rare phenomenon of
word-initial lexical geminates undergoes detailed scrutiny
and is used to point out deficiencies of moraic theory.


Thurgovian is a Swiss German dialect spoken in a small area
in the North-Western corner of Switzerland. It exhibits
several rare and extraordinary geminate consonant patterns
that make it an intriguing research object both for
phonetics and phonology. Astrid Kraehenmann's book is a
revised version of her doctoral dissertation for which she
received a prize from the City of Konstanz in 2001.

The book opens with a short introduction including an
overview of the Thurgovian dialect's setting within Germanic
languages and some general information on geminates. The
author also states the three main goals she has set for her
work: to show causal relationships in the historical
development of Thurgovian, to show the interplay between
phonology and phonetics in its consonant system and to
justify the analysis of its phonological quantity
oppositions in terms of length rather than weight.

In the first chapter, theoretical constructs central to the
author's analysis are presented. The main emphasis lies on
the representation of geminates, and moraic theory (Hyman
1985, Hayes 1989) in particular is discussed at some
length. Chapter 2 systematically describes the current sound
system of Thurgovian whose wealth of lexical quantity
oppositions is especially interesting: in addition to vowel
quantity, quantity contrasts for fricatives and sonorants
appear word-medially and -finally, for stops in all
positions, including word-initially, e.g. singleton [t]
vs. geminate [tt] at the beginning of the two words
corresponding to German "Dank" ('thank') and "Tank"
('tank'), with the geminate in the place of the German
aspirated voiceless [t] and the singleton in the place of
unaspirated voiced [d]. After the synchronic presentation,
the third chapter details on almost forty pages the
diachronic development from Old High German to present-day
Thurgovian, stressing the role of Open Syllable Lengthening
in the understanding of differences between the evolution of
Standard German and that of Thurgovian which has preserved
much more of the old quantity opposition system.

Chapter 4 produces phonetic evidence in the form of the
author's recordings of elicited Modern Thurgovian
speech. 213 words covering all consonant quantity contrasts
were read aloud by four male native Thurgovian speakers in
the following way: in the first part of the production task,
the subjects were primed with short written contexts on a
computer screen containing the target word and had to repeat
it as soon as it appeared on the screen on its own; in the
second part the subjects were primed with a written question
on the screen and then presented with the initial-consonant
target word which they had to insert into the empty slot of
an appropriate answer sentence provided on a sheet of paper;
this setup was repeated with different contexts and
final-consonant target words in the third part. Also
position of the word in the phrase was varied (phrase-final
vs. phrase-medial). The whole task was recorded twice for
each speaker. Of the 213 stimulus words, one third were
filler items, the relevant rest of the material (after
rejection of failed productions a total of 2722 tokens) was
transferred to an acoustic signal analysis program for
segmentation of the waveforms and duration measurements.

Analysis of variance results for the influence of
segmental context and underlying quantity on the measured
durations together with their phonological interpretations
make up the bulk of this central chapter. The main findings
include a clear direct relationship between phonological
quantity and segmental durations, empirical verification of
the geminate distribution rules of Chapter 2, evidence
interpretable in favor of the X-slot theory (Levin 1985) and
the absence of a correlation between vowel and consonant
durations. An additional perception experiment showed that
word-initial stop quantity contrast can only be
discriminated when preceding context is included in the
stimuli - which is to be expected since stop occlusions
are silent and thus their duration can only be judged (by
means other than articulography) if there is something
non-silent immediately before them.

The fifth chapter is devoted to a broad discussion of
syllable weight and stress patterns in the light of the
Thurgovian data. The most important theoretical point made
is that moraic theory cannot account for the observations
because it represents weight and length by the same unit
whereas in the data weight is determined purely by position
and the geminate-singleton distinction relies solely on a
length opposition. Also, Thurgovian initial and final
geminates follow exactly the same patterning as their medial
counterparts (manifesting a clear distinction between
sonorants and obstruents), thus contradicting moraic
theory's assumption of different behavior at word edges.

In her final Conclusion section, the author summarizes her
findings and emphasizes the aspect of asymmetry in several
of them. There is the asymmetrical distribution of geminate
fricatives and stops versus geminate sonorants where the
former occur both after non-branching and branching nuclei
but the latter only after non-branching nuclei, and there is
the asymmetry of geminate fricatives and sonorants which
only occur word-medially and -finally versus the geminate
stops which also occur word-initially. The third asymmetry
concerns neutralization of geminates, degemination, which in
final position only takes place if the preceding nucleus is
branching, or, using the slot terminology; the two geminate
slots can be syllabified in a coda but not in an onset.

This book is of potential interest for a rather wide
selection of language and speech researchers. Although its
main focus lies on phonology, there is also much material
for phoneticians to dwell upon. In addition,
dialectologists, historical linguists and language
typologists will all find something relevant to their
fields. The amount of data analyzed is very impressive. Of
course, collection of more realistic spontaneous speech data
might give us a wealth of new insights but as a systematic
approach to word-internal structure analysis the author's
method of eliciting single words is well justified.

As a phonetician, I would have appreciated an even more
explicit account of the acoustic measuring procedures
(e.g. now it is not clear what the exact amplitude threshold
criterion for the marking of a stop's occlusion boundary is
- not that this could endanger the validity of the geminate
analysis, though) as well as information about possible
access to the data. But I am at a loss for pointing out any
major flaws of this book which is also carefully edited and
includes all necessary and hoped-for appendices and indices.

Finally, one of the greatest strengths of this book lies in
its author's unveiled excitement about her object of
research. Her keen interest in the Thurgovian dialect and
obvious fascination with its peculiarities also inspire the
reader to follow her thorough examinations with a stronger
involvement. Kraehenmann's book certainly lives up to the
Phonology and Phonetics series' intention of stimulating
discussion across specialty boundaries.


Hayes, Bruce (1989) Compensatory lengthening in moraic theory.
Linguistic Inquiry 20(2), pp. 253-306.

Hyman, Larry (1985) A Theory of Phonological Weight.
Dordrecht: Foris.

Levin, Juliette (1985) A metrical theory of syllabicity. PhD
dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.

Stefan Werner has been teaching phonetics, linguistics and
language technology at the University of Joensuu in Finland
since 1986. His research interests include intonation
modeling, production and perception of quantity, and speech

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